You’ll likely have heard a lot of talk about trade unions in recent months. And with nearly seven million people in the UK being members across nearly every industry, it’s worth considering membership as a working creative. In broad terms, unions negotiate pay deals and ensure workers’ demands are heard by their employers. And with the cost of living crisis looming large, protecting your rights and interests as an employee has never been more important. Scroll down as we talk you through what exactly a union does for its members, the benefits of joining one and the right union for your creative discipline.
What is a trade union?
A trade union is essentially a group of workers who band together to preserve and improve their working and employment conditions. They train workplace representatives, democratically elected by union members, to organise and deal with matters such as:
Negotiating agreements with employers on fair pay and working conditions
Discussing any large or concerning changes to employment, such as en-masse or large scale redundancy
Accompanying members to disciplinary and grievance meetings
Discussing any concerns that members have with their employer
On top of these, trade unions often undertake political and industrial campaigning on behalf of workers’ employment interests, and organise strikes when agreements cannot be reached over working conditions.
You will usually be charged a membership fee to support the work of the union.
What have unions done?
There are many significant changes to workplace rights and norms that have come about because of the work of trade unions, including:
A national minimum wage
Minimum holiday allowance and sick pay
The abolition of child labour
Improved worker safety
A reduction of hours in the working week
The encouragement of a healthy work-life balance
Improved conditions of parental leave
Legislation for equality
Increased protection for migrant workers
A reduction in worker exploitation
You might also be surprised to know that the current norm of the two-day weekend was a result of campaigning by trade unions!
As a creative, there are a number of benefits in joining a union. For one, the industry is not always roses – there are too many accounts of overworked, underpaid and undervalued employees in the creative world to count. It can also be more difficult to feel like you can collectively bargain as a creative, particularly if you’re freelancing or working from home. While they come with many benefits, these conditions can sometimes feel isolating – unions are another creative community you can be a part of.
Convinced? The Trades’ Union Congress have a union finder tool on their website to find the one that best represents you. Below, we’ve also rounded up some of the well-known creative unions you can join in the UK and the industries and types of workers they specialise in – from writing to video games, full-time employees to casual workers.
1. The Broadcasting, Entertainment, Communications and Theatre Union (BECTU)
BECTU represents workers across the media, with the exception of actors and musicians. The union represents employees and freelance workers, spanning full-time and part-time staff, project workers, contract workers, casuals and dailies.
Artists’ Union England represents artists working across visual art, applied arts, socially engaged art, moving image, sound and performance. They offer a handy online library of resources about artist issues, as well as free training and study opportunities.
Scottish Artists’ Union are the representative voice for working visual and applied artists in Scotland. They campaign for arts funding to directly support visual artists and arts activities – all whilst defending artists’ pay, rights and expanding benefits.
The WGGB represents professional writers in TV, film, theatre, radio, books, comedy, poetry, animation and videogames. Their membership also welcomes emerging and aspiring writers. The union offers many member benefits such as free training, contract vetting, a pension scheme, welfare fund and more.
5. United Voices of the World’s Designers and Cultural Workers’ Union (UVW-DCW)
The DCW represents anyone who considers themselves a cultural worker, stressing that many of their members work multiple jobs and freelance and that their titles are difficult to neatly classify. They span (but are not limited to) visual arts, graphic design, theatre, music and nightlife, fashion, creative education and audio production. During the pandemic, they worked to support studio tenants and produced guidelines of freelance workers’ rights.
A branch of United Voices of the World’s Designers and Cultural Workers’ union, the Creative Communication Workers union provides support for creatives, account managers, strategists, artworkers, caterers, security staff and cleaners within the industry. They are committed to fighting stagnating pay by pushing for higher wages, job security and long term career development.
The Musicians’ Union is the trade union representing over 32,000 musicians across the UK working in all sectors of the music business. They negotiate with all of the major employers in the industry on behalf of their members, whilst offering a range of support services for musicians.
The NUJ represents workers across the media – from newspapers, broadcasting and book publishing to magazines, websites, mobile devices, social media and PR agencies. Their members work across a range of disciplines, including reporting, writing, photography and editing to design, videography, communications and presenting.
Equity represents 47,000 performers and creative practitioners, collectively bargaining for fair terms and conditions in the performers’ workplace. Their members consist of actors, singers, dancers, set designers, directors, stage managers, puppeteers, comedians, voice artists. They produce magazines and podcasts on issues within the industry including mental health, class and day rates.
The Graphics Union provides support and a discussion forum for freelance graphic designers working within the UK film and television industry. They are primarily for those working on anything from projects for independent and small budget productions, to internationally released major motion pictures and high-end television.